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Gap Year Abroad

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12/04/2013

Voluntariado

“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.” Dalai Lama XIV

A major part of my program here in Chile has involved volunteering. During my time here I volunteered at three different places. On Mondays and Thursdays, I taught English at a public elementary school. On Wednesdays, I taught swimming to 6-8-year-old kids.  And on weekends I volunteered with an organization called Adapta where I helped chilren with different kinds of disabilities participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, slacklining and surfing!

Adapta was always a great way to get outside on the weekends and working with the kids always put a smile on my face. It reminded me of Best Buddies, a program I participated in during high school, and I loved being able to make that connection. At first it was hard to communicate because of the language barrier, and at times I felt almost useless as a volunteer. Of course, that changed as my Spanish improved. But I also realized that the language wasn’t the most important aspect. We were there to put a smile on, laugh, and have fun with the kids; in general we were there be a positive support during these fun activities.

Here are some pictures from one of the surf sessions. 

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I learned to swim when I was four and have had a lot of experience teaching kids how to swim, so when I found out that this was a volunteer option in Chile, I couldn’t pass it up. This opportunity really pushed me. Unlike my other volunteer work, here I was the only American volunteer, so I was speaking in Spanish 100% of the time. Also, often there wasn’t a set plan as far as what I was suppose to do thus it was up to me to determine each kids’ skill levels, (which ended up being nothing more than staying above water and floating on their back,) and then to come up with various swimming drills and exercises during the hour we had together. Oh yes, and of course, this was all in Spanish. This volunteer opportunity was challenging, but the kids were really cute and always energetic so it was really rewarding and a lot of fun!   

Because I was constantly in the water trying to juggle 5 or 6 little seven- year olds, there was really no time to take pictures, but here is one I snapped of one of the other volunteers in between sessions. 

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My friend Anna and I volunteered at the elementary school, Paul Harris. The kids always got really excited when we arrived because it was a change of pace from their regular day. Aside from working on different English listening and comprehension activities, as well as a little bit of grammar we were constantly being asked if we knew the band One Direction, who our favorite band member was, and other fun stuff like that. We really tried to have fun with the kids and I really felt like we left a positive light in these kids’ lives. At the end of class, all of the kids would line up to give Anna and me kiss on the cheek goodbye. It took about 10 minutes just to get out of the classroom but was so cute and is something I will always remember.

Here is a picture of the classroom, as well as Anna and one of our students Kevin as twins! 

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Another volunteer activity was through the school’s extracurricular English club where students come to improve and practice their English. Each volunteer was paired up with a student who had to create a presentation about his or her partner or volunteer’s home state in the United States. I was paired up with an extremely bright 13-year-old boy named Fernando. As we were working on our poster he was constantly asking me questions about the States and just practicing his English non-stop; I could tell he really has a passion for English. Together we created a poster with pictures of Washington, D.C.’s monuments, museum, sports teams and famous people native to the District. Fun fact: The actor Samuel L. Jackson from the movie “Avengers” was born in D.C.! We wrote a script that Fernando read from that described the various D.C. landmarks. I remember one day after he read through it and I corrected his English, he asked me to read it and translate it into Spanish. As I read through he corrected my Spanish; we were laughing and it was a total bonding moment for us. November 13th was the International Culture Day where all the students presented their projects to the whole school and honored guests including people from the Embassy of the United States. Fernando did a flawless job, as I expected, and I think it was really successful day in general! I really loved working with Fernando. This is super cliché, but it was a great feeling to know I was making a difference in this one kid’s life because I know I will remember the difference he made in mine.

Here are a few pictures from the International Culture day!

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Fernando presenting to a group of 4th graders CIMG1800

Fernando's friend, Fernando and me in front of our D.C. poster! 

The last part of my volunteer work was through my Service Learning class. Our class, which was really just the 7 gap students, wanted to give back to the school where we had been volunteering. The school has a gray fence around it, and from the outside it really didn’t look like a place where happy, cheerful, elementary students studied, so we decided to add some color to the outside and paint a mural!  

Here is a picture of the mural we painted; it is a picture of the school’s mascot “Super Paul” with some mountains and the ocean in the background to loosely play off of Chile’s geography. 

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Maggie and I putting some finishing touches on the mural! 

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Gap group with our wonderful mural! 

With only an hour and a half to paint and no real artist amongst us, I think we were all really pleased with how it turned out.

It always feels good to give back but with each different experience I also gained new insight into the language, culture and myself. Each of these volunteering opportunities has made a significant impact on my experience here as well as on the person I am, and I will remember each of them, and what they taught me throughout the rest of my life.

Ciao for now! 

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